Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Twitter: likes vs. retweets

On Twitter, you have a constantly self-updating news feed called a "timeline" in Twitterspeak. The most recent tweets always appear at the top, forever bumping the rest of the timeline downward. If you follow thousands of people (I follow under 100), many of whom tweet more than once a day, you'll be deluged with tweets, and the best you can hope to do is quickly scan your timeline for the juicier recent tweets, i.e., the ones that hit your funny bone or plunge you into A Profounde Reverye for a millisecond. Given that dynamic, Twitter doesn't encourage deep thought: instead, it encourages the development of a studio executive's skill: the ability to judge worthy and unworthy tweets with just a glance.

So let's say you find a worthy tweet. Twitter offers you several options:

1. You can reply directly to the tweeter. This reply is normally visible to the tweeter, but not to the general public (or more specifically, to your own followers) unless you place a period before the "@" symbol in your reply.

2. You can send a direct message (DM) to the tweeter as long as you and the tweeter follow each other.

3. You can "like" the tweet by clicking the "like" button. This signals the tweeter that someone reacted favorably to the tweet, and it also specifies who the "liker" was.

4. You can "retweet" the tweet, i.e., send the tweeter's tweet out to your followers. Many folks on Twitter will claim "a retweet is not an endorsement" because, on some occasions, people retweet a tweet to show how stupid or egregious the tweet is: "Look at this fuckin' guy, wouldja'?" That said, most retweets are endorsements.

5. You can retweet while "quoting" the tweet and adding your own reaction to it. Your followers can thus see the original tweet plus your brief thoughts on the matter.

6. You can do any combination or permutation of the above. Many folks favor a "like and retweet" strategy.

My feeling is that a retweet is better than a like, mainly because a retweet is, in most cases, implicitly a like, and it has the advantage of spreading the coolness of a clever tweet more widely, whereas a like is merely entre nous—it goes nowhere further. At the same time, even though I do engage in retweeting binges, I'm not really in favor of mindlessly retweeting everything that comes my way. Those sorts of people on Twitter strike me as having no real thoughts of their own, and on such a substance-free medium, sending out your own thoughts is much better than merely parroting someone else's.

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